Read: November 2008
My wife hates Ernest Hemingway with passion. Something to do with him being misogynistic, and a hunter, and some other things I can't remember right now. She also had to read The Old Man and the Sea in school and hated it. So, being a contrary sort of fellow, I was eager to get my first taste of Hemingway!
And you know what? I really enjoyed it. The Old Man and the Sea is ninety-nine pages of the most simple story you can imagine. The Old Man is a fisherman from a small village near Havana, who has fallen on hard times and failed to catch anything on any of his past eighty-four days at sea. He only survives thanks to the generosity and loyalty of a boy he has taken under his wing. But his luck changes when he gets a bite on one of his hooks, a bite which turns out to be from a fish or superhuman size. So begins an epic struggle between man and fish, a struggle for life, and honour, against which Hemingway paints a view of man’s coexistence with nature. This is a story of an old man of superhuman endeavour, who is able to remain rational and focused even under the greatest strain and faced with almost impossible odds. And it is the story of the close bond of camaraderie, respect, and determination that grows up between the hunter and the hunted. At least in the mind of the hunter, anyway. For, as he observes, “no man is ever alone on the sea.”
In prose as simple and straight forward as anything you are likely to read, The Old Man and the Sea is a fantastic fable, beautifully erudite and fantastically realised. It is inspiring, and tragic, and beautiful, all at the same time.
It is said that you either like Hemingway, or Faulkner, never both. Well, I haven’t read Faulkner yet but I can definitely declare myself in the camp of those who appreciate the simple, economical prose and unromantic style of Ernest Hemingway. And I profess categorically that it does not matter who a writer was in their life, or what they did. I do not need to know them, I do not need to be their friend. It is the book, the work of art which you lay back with and give yourself to, and it remains exceptional, regardless of the character of the person who wrote it.
8 out of 10